Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Desiring God

"Your desire is your prayer; and if your desire is without ceasing, your prayer will also be without ceasing. The continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer." St. Augustine

The Lord always wants to stir up our desire for him, and perhaps most of all to stir up our confidence in his desire to share all that he is, all that he has with us. Our confidence in his desire is so essential. The God who is at once totally available and at the same time altogether beyond our reach, draws us into the mystery that he is; draws us into himself. For God in Christ is always moving toward us. "His desire gives rise to yours," says Saint Bernard, "and if you are eager to receive him, it is he who is rushing to enter your heart; for he first loved us, not we him." Jesus enfleshes this towardness of God -  going out of himself, rushing toward us as he seeks to captivates us with the “spell of his love and his desire.”1

Imagine then the awesome daring of our prayer- we hope, we believe that we can be intimate with the living God- we have built our lives around this. And we know that this desire, this reaching out toward God, is possible only because of God’s desire in the first place. Best of all God’s most tender desire for communion with us has taken flesh in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus is God’s desire for us coming toward us moment by moment across the depths of otherness. Jesus is the Bridge, our Bridge to the Father. And to have the gumption to pray at all we must, like Peter walking across the water, allow our foolish overreaching desire to trump the imbalance of reality- our puny humanity vs. his sublime divinity. What prudence would surely caution against, we do when we dare to pray. And it is awesome to say the least.

Jesus' desire for communion with us teaches us confidence, fiducia for St. Bernard. For within our very bones, our guts, planted there by the invisible, unfathomable, living God is our capacity, our natural need and longing for God, indeed, for an intimacy and union that is our rightful possession. We are built for it, built for Jesus, Jesus whose name means  “God saves, God frees."2 In Christ  Jesus God is constantly giving us himself, his very life, “that life that flows in abundance from his pierced side, from his empty tomb."3 If indeed God in Christ is constantly coming toward us, constant in his desire for us, how shall we respond?

1 Dionysius the Aeropagite, The Divine Names, IV in Olivier Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 22.
2 Olivier Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 238.
3 Ibid, 238.


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Geese Return

Signaling the end of the summer, flocks of Canadian geese have returned to rest and and feed in the Abbey fields on their way north. We are told that since early Roman times, geese have been used in literature and art as symbols of vigilance and divine providence. This is because of the ancient legend of the Capitoline geese who honked their warning and saved Rome from the invasion of the Gauls. As we keep watch in vigils and prayer, the geese are our late August companions.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


As we honor Mary as our Queen, we share recent reflections from Father Abbot.

Meanwhiles are usually times of storm of one sort of another; a time of being disconcerted, surprised, lost and confused, questioning, searching, being caught off balance. I began to reflect on Mary’s life and all the meanwhile moments she must have lived through. What was Mary doing when the Angel Gabriel showed up? She was probably going about her daily routine and chores. "I am a virgin, meanwhile I am pregnant. My cousin Elizabeth, is too old to bear a child, meanwhile she is also pregnant. I go to visit her to give her a helping hand, meanwhile she starts extolling me with praises. I have accepted and acknowledged God’s active presence in my life and in the life of the child in my womb. Meanwhile I must go on an arduous journey to Bethlehem and end up giving birth in a stable. I bring my newborn to the Temple, and meanwhile I am told that a sword will pierce my heart. When my son is twelve we travel to Jerusalem for the Festival, and on the way home we realize he is not with the caravan. We head back to Jerusalem. Meanwhile we find him in the Temple teaching the elders. As he matures into adulthood he goes off on preaching tours, meanwhile I begin to hear rumors, such that I wonder if he has lost his mind. His preaching and teaching anger the authorities, and so he is condemned to die. Meanwhile I receive his tortured body into my arms."

How did Mary get through all the meanwhile moments in her life? She pondered things in her heart. She was a woman of prayer, prayer rooted in God’s word. God’s word was never far from her daily lived experience. The Magnificat, Mary’s poem, attests to this. It is original and at the same time it is a fabric woven with threads from the Hebrew Scriptures. Mary was always at home with God’s Word. Her familiarity with God’s Word enabled her to remain open to God in all the meanwhile moments of her life, those moments when her life and God’s life encountered one another. Thus, Mary really knows how to speak with us, speak to us and invite us to know, to love and to live the Word of God.

We are all learners. But there are moments, fleeting but very real, when the Word of God and the word of my life (especially in those meanwhile moments) echo one another. The word echo captures something of the dynamic and transient dimension of these moments. For these moments cannot be grasped or translated literally. But there is a reality to such moments that cannot be denied.

Because Mary is with God and in God, she is not remote from us or remote from all the meanwhiles of our life. She is very close to each one of us. Being in God, who is closer to us than we are to ourselves, she shares in the closeness of God to us. Being in God and with God, she is close to each one of us, knows our hearts, can hear our prayers; can assist us in all our needs.

Photograph of the Abbey Salve Window by Michel Raguin.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Solemnity of Saint Bernard

After years of difficulty our first monastery in Cîteaux, France came to life with the arrival in 1113 of a group of young Burgundian noblemen, under the leadership of Bernard of Fontaine-lès-Dijon. He was destined to become the Order's most famous son. As we celebrate the ninth centenary of Saint Bernard’s entry into the Abbey of Cîteaux, we pray for vocations to our Abbey and to all the monasteries of our Order.

Most loving Father,
in establishing the New Monastery at Cîteaux
our fathers followed the poor Christ into the desert.
Thus they lived the Gospel,
by rediscovering the Rule of Saint Benedict in its purity.

You gave Bernard of Fontaine the ability
to make this new life attractive and appealing to others,
in the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Grant that we today, after their example,
may live our charism deeply
in a spirit of peace, unity, humility,
and above all, in the charity which surpasses all other gifts.

May men and women of our time
be called to follow the Gospel in monastic life,
in the service of the Church’s mission,
in a world often forgetful of You.

May the monks and nuns of our Order 
continue to live in the enthusiastic
and generative spirit of the founders.
And in all of our needs may we always turn to Our Lady 
whom Bernard called the Star of the Sea.

Holy Father, from whom we have already received so much,
grant us again your blessing
that our communities may grow in numbers,
but above all in grace and in wisdom,
to your glory,
who are blessed for ever and ever.

Francisco Ribalta, Christ Embracing Saint Bernard, Oil on canvas, 1625-1627, 113 x 158 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Prayer adapted from original by Dom Olivier, abbot of Cîteaux.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Savior

This arresting image of Christ is a favorite of many of us and reveals El Greco's indebtedness to the icon painters of his native Greece. But while icons have brilliant gold backgrounds signifying timelessness and eternity, in this painting Christ is shown against a background of daubed and scumbled muddy browns. Thus it is that El Greco depicts Christ as  absolutely of the earth, one of us. At the same time his diamond shaped nimbus, his right hand raised in blessing and his left resting in dominion over the brown orb of Earth reveal that he is truly divine.

Truly human, truly divine, Christ Jesus is with us, truly with us in all things, always and everywhere.

The Savior, El Greco (and workshop), 1608-1614, oil on canvas, 72 cm x 55 cm, The Prado, Madrid.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Mary's Assumption

The grave and death could not hold the Mother of God, who is sleepless in her intercessions and an unchanging hope in her meditations. For as the Mother of Life she was transferred to life by Him Who dwelt in her ever-virgin womb.

On this patronal feast of our Order, we had a glorious celebration. This morning's Liturgy began with the chanting of the antiphon above. We then processed through the four cloisters singing the litany and hymns to Our Lady and paused to venerate her icon adorned with flowers. Father Abbot incensed Our Lady's image. And we proceeded to the church to begin the solemn Eucharist.

Monday, August 13, 2012

As the Smell of a Field

"The winter is past, the rain is over and gone, the flowers appear on the earth"; signifying that summer has come back with Him who dissolves icy death into the spring of a new life and says, "Behold, I make all things new." His Body sown in the grave has blossomed in the Resurrection; and in like manner our valleys and fields which were barren or frozen, as if dead, glow with reviving life and warmth.

The Father of Christ who makes all things new, is well pleased with the freshness of those flowers and fruits, and the beauty of the field which breathes forth such heavenly fragrance; and He says in benediction, "See, the smell of My Son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed." Blessed to overflowing, indeed, since of His fullness have all we received.

But the Bride may come when she pleases and gather flowers and fruits therewith to adorn the inmost recesses of her conscience; that the Bridegroom when He comes may find the chamber of her heart fragrant with perfume. So it behoves us, if we would have Christ for a frequent guest, to fill our hearts with faithful meditations on the mercy He showed in dying for us, and on His mighty power in rising again from the dead.

Lines from On Loving God by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.
Photograph of Abbey woodlands and pond by Brother Casimir.

Sunday, August 12, 2012


If only we could understand how much God loves us? Perhaps a story can help. This is a story about Jack Boughton, from the novel Home by Marilynne Robinson.

Jack has just returned to his small, sleepy hometown of Gilead, Iowa. He has always understood himself as the outsider in a family of seven children, always on the sidelines, the rebel and renegade. He has always understood himself as the bad boy who doesn’t belong. But he’s come home now, trying to piece things together, trying to come home to himself really.

Jack’s life is in shambles. First there was the thing with that poor, underage girl; their baby died tragically years ago. And in the meantime Jack has done some time in prison. You see Jack is a thief. He has deceived family and friends. Always on the move, he’s been a vagrant for years, in and out of jobs. He has just run out on his lovely wife and little son. Jack is addicted to drink. And a few days ago drunk and desperate, he tried to take his own life here at home right out there in the old barn.

But how his family loves him. They just won’t stop. His frail, aged father, a retired minister tells Jack how much he has always loved him in spite of everything. “So many times, over the years,” he says, “I’ve tried not to love you so much. I never got anywhere with it." He just can’t stop loving Jack. (Even though, truth be told, it’s just about wearied the old man to death.) But Jack is sure that he's not worth his family's time or love. But they can’t stop. They refuse to.

Now Jack’s father is near death, the Reverend Ames, his best friend, has come to celebrate the breaking of the bread with him. The prayers are said, the bread is broken and shared. But when the holy bread is offered to Jack, he steps back, head lowered, hands closed. The love is unbearable; he excludes himself, so certain is he of his own unworthiness. A tragedy.

Which of us is worthy of love, of real relationship, of holy communion? Only the love of the other, earthly or divine; only that gaze of love can draw us into the reality of our belovedness. With good reason we say, “Lord, I am not worthy,” before receiving Holy Communion. Only love has made us worthy. Christ Jesus, our Lord, in welcome and desire for us, draws us to himself.  Part of our "work" as monks is learning how to receive this gift in gratitude and humility and joy. If only we knew the gift of God and who it is who loves us beyond all telling.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

No More

The Lord speaks to us this morning through the prophet Jeremiah, “I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” Given what is sometimes the stinginess of our ability to forgive from the depths of our hearts, God’s forgiveness is almost unfathomably exquisite, astounding in its breadth and boundlessness. “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us,” says the Psalmist. Sin is real, and confessing it does not mean nothing wrong has happened. But what privilege and joy to humbly confess our transgressions to the Lord, only to have them forgiven- buried, erased and forgotten by divine Mercy.

Monday, August 6, 2012


Today with Jesus we hear the Father speak to us on the mountaintop, “This is my beloved.”  Belovedness is our name written on God’s heart. We are beloved in Christ. And nothing can separate us from that love. Baptized in Christ, we have been baptized into his belovedness. Still this is an identity that is somehow offered to us over and over, for our choosing, for our believing. When we dare to trust that we are so loved by God, we can go and do likewise. Those who have been amply loved, find it easy to be lovers themselves. Believing in our belovedness, we are transfigured. Let us hear today with Jesus the voice of the Father, and imagine the pleasure of the Father with the Son in the Spirit gazing upon us.
Photograph by Brother Daniel.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Saint John Vianney

As pray-ers striving to keep our hearts ardently focused on the Lord, we monks are inspired by the life and praying of Saint John Vianney, the Curé of Ars.

Prayer, formed by the liturgical life, draws everything into the love by which we are loved in Christ and which enables us to respond to him by loving as he has loved us. Love is the source of prayer; whoever draws from it reaches the summit of prayer. In the words of the Curé of Ars, " I love you, O my God, and my only desire is to love you until the last breath of my life. I love you, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving you, than live without loving you. I love you, Lord, and the only grace I ask is to love you eternally. .  . My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love you, I want my heart to repeat it to you as often as I draw breath."

 from The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2658.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


We celebrate today the 37th Anniversary of the Dedication of our Abbey church, this solemn annual remembrance.  During the Abbey's early years, the growth of the community was remarkable. And ground was broken for our church on 19 March 1952. On 15 August 1953 the first Mass was solemnly celebrated in the newly completed church. Designed by some of the monks in collaboration with a local architectural firm, the church was built by contracted lay workers and the many monks who assisted them. We are grateful for the beauty and simplicity of our monastic church, grateful for the labor and inspiration of our monastic forebears.

Today's feast, brothers, ought to be all the more devout as it is more personal. For other celebrations we have in common with other ecclesiastical communities, but this one is proper to us, so that if we do not celebrate it nobody will. It is ours because it concerns our church; ours because we ourselves are its theme. You are surprised and even embarrassed, perhaps, at celebrating a feast for yourselves. But do not be like horses and mules that have no understanding. Your souls are holy because of the Spirit of God dwelling in you; your bodies are holy because of your souls and this building is holy because of your bodies.
Saint Bernard, Sermon for the Dedication of a Church

You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2.5